The report, the result of an investigation by the Verdens Gang (VG) newspaper, claims that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was given 166 times over a three-year period without the prior consent of patients.
The treatment, formerly known as electroshock therapy, has been shown to be effective against certain types of life-threatening psychotic or psychiatric illnesses, including major depressive disorder, mania and catatonia.
Although heavily regulated in Norway, doctors can decide to carry out the treatment – which is only permitted with the informed consent of patients under normal circumstances – if they believe it represents the absolute final chance to save the life and health of the patient, writes VG.
In January this year, Norway’s Civil Ombudsman reacted strongly against the use of ECT to treat a patient that had not given consent, according to the report.
The figures used in the report were gathered from all of Norway’s health authorities for 2014, 2015 and 2016, writes VG.
“There are two aspects here that are particularly concerning. One is that the numbers are uncertain. The other is that patients are given several treatments over time, based on emergency necessity. It is notable in itself that a treatment justified by an emergency situation can last for days and weeks,” Helga Ervik, who heads the Civil Ombudsman’s preventative unit against torture, told VG.
“Emergency necessity [nødrett in Norwegian, ed.] is associated with an acute situation, whereby someone is in mortal danger. A treatment given in such a situation could be presumed to have an immediate effect,” Ervik added.
Several hospitals informed the newspaper that, should a patient be incapable of giving consent themselves, the decision to give ECT treatment is made in consultation with relatives.
“A relative can never give consent to an invasive procedure of this kind. The requirement for consent is only fulfilled by the individual in question giving it,” Ervik told VG, adding that the Ombudsman had experienced “a lack of clarity, a lot of uncertainty and possibly also misunderstandings regarding what next of kin may do”.
Hospital representatives told the newspaper that the final decision is not taken by relatives.
“The final decision to give ECT under emergency circumstances is taken by the specialist in the appropriate area,” head of department Torgeir Vethe of the Clinic for Psychiatric Health and Addiction at the Vestre Viken health authority told VG.
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